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Thinking About New Hardware

I’m thinking about replacing my desktop and laptop, but I’m not sure which way to go. In this post I want to explain my needs and hopefully get some help from you.

I started out by posting the question on Fosstodon, but quickly realised that 500 characters isn’t enough for me to talk about this subject properly. So, here we are…

My current setup

I have quite a lot of hardware already, but my main devices are my Laptop (a gen 2 Lenovo X1 Carbon from 2014) and a home built desktop, also from 2014.

My desktop and laptop are used interchangeably for the most part, but with COVID I’m currently working from home, so using my desktop a lot more as it has 2 monitors.

I mostly use my laptop for writing posts and doing a bit of coding. I’m actually writing this post from my laptop, all while the kids run around crazy – it’s hard to concentrate so please forgive me if this post isn’t very coherent. 🙂

My system specs

I thought it would be useful to provide my current system specs, just so you guys know what I’m working with at the moment.

My laptop

Like I said, my laptop is a second generation Lenovo X1 Carbon. It has the following system specs:

  • 4th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-4600U (3.30GHz)
  • 14.0″ HD screen (1600×900)
  • Intel® HD Graphics 4400
  • 8GB DDR3 1600 MHz
  • 256GB SSD M.2 eDrive

My desktop

This is a home built affair that’s been upgraded a couple of times since I first built it back in 2014. Here are the specs:

  • AMD FX-6300 (3.5GHz)
  • 2x 24″ HD (1080p) monitors
  • 16GB DDR3 1333MHz
  • Radeon RX560 (4GB RAM)
  • 1TB SSD Windows 10
  • 1TB SSD Pop!_OS

What I use my devices for

I’m not much of a gamer. I play some Minecraft on both devices, and the odd game from Steam, but that’s very rare. I certainly play no AAA titles or anything like that. if I were to get back into gaming, I’d probably get a console.

What I mostly use my devices for is writing posts like this, surfing the web, and writing code. The most common applications I use are:

  • Firefox (web browser)
  • Typora (writing posts in markdown)
  • Atom (code editor)
  • Filezilla (FTP)
  • Inkscape (vector graphics)
  • The GIMP (image editor)
  • Signal (private messaging)
  • Spotify (music)
  • Keybase (encrypted chat)
  • Minecraft (fun game)

I also use my desktop for work, but we have remote virtual desktops that we log into, so I don’t need any kind of powerhouse machine for that.

Why I want to upgrade

Based on my usage, you probably think that I don’t need to upgrade. I certainly don’t tax my machines, that’s for sure. But the hardware is getting old and there are things that the machines don’t have that I’d like.

For example, my desktop doesn’t have USB 3.0. You may think that’s easily fixed with a PCI card on the motherboard, but I don’t have space for that because of the graphics card (it’s a micro ATX board/case).

My laptop’s battery is pretty poor now too; only giving me around 2 hours of usage on a good day. Unfortunately, because this is an “ultra book” there’s no way for me to easily replace the battery.

My options

The way I see it there are a number of options I have available to me. Each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Option 1: new desktop & laptop

Pretty much a direct replacement for what I have now, only more up to date. The advantage of this is that I have exactly the same workflow I do now.

The obvious disadvantage here is that this option is going to be very expensive and my wife will not be happy!

Option 2: new laptop with dock

The second option is that I go for an all singing, all dancing laptop with a dock. The advantage of this is that I have all my devices in one place – I have my laptop for on the go, and I can dock it to my screens etc. when I need to. It will also be cheaper than buying a new desktop and laptop.

However, there’s a couple of disadvantages here too. Firstly, it’s a single point of failure. If my laptop breaks, I have no device I can use. Secondly, laptops aren’t as upgradable as desktops, so I’d likely get less life out of a laptop alone.

Option 3: the middle ground

I think there’s a potential middle ground here, where I replace my desktop with a more up to date and pretty powerful device. Then replace my laptop with something middle of the road. Maybe something like a Pinebook Pro if it can run the apps I’ve listed above.

That way I have my laptop that I can use for writing posts, coding and surfing the web (let’s be honest, I don’t need much power for that). And I have my desktop for when I need to do any heavy lifting.

I also then still have 2 devices in case one fails.

Note: What ever laptop I buy, it can be no bigger than 14″. I like small, ultrabook style laptops.

Conclusion

There is no conclusion here yet. That’s why I need your help! What do you think I should do? What would you do in my position?

I don’t really need to replace my hardware, and I’m in no rush to do so. What I have at the moment works well, I’d just like my setup to be better.

First world problems, eh?

What do you think? Option 1, 2, 3, or maybe something else entirely? Or, should I stop being an entitled brat and be happy with what I’ve got?

I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below to tell me what you think…

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Comments

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  1. @kev this was a thoughtful piece on the upgrade path. i was riding on an amd system from 6 years ago.pre-pandemic decided to clear my workspace (the lab) and have a big part out. ended up with enough coin to go with a ryzen 3700x, 64gb, nvme pci-e 4.0, and a rx570 gpu.it’s taken a while to work out some of the gpu problems on debian (even with sid), but it’s more or less sorted.if you require someone to bounce ideas off of 🙂

  2. @kev It would eat all the coding you could throw at it. Not to mention, you’d have plenty of resources to spin up virtual machines for different distros and other operating systems. Board would like run you $80-$120. CPUs would be $25/each. Ram is about $10 for an 8gb stick and you could load it with a few hundred gb. (Edit: I should have clarified that the dual Xeons setup would be for the desktop)

  3. @kev It would eat all the coding you could throw at it. Not to mention, you’d have plenty of resources to spin up virtual machines for different distros and other operating systems. Board would like run you $80-$120. CPUs would be $25/each. Ram is about $10 for an 8gb stick and you could load it with a few hundred gb.

  4. @kev Based on your use/needs, I’d upgrade both systems. Grab a decent/lower power laptop like a Pinebook. Since you’re not gaming, you can forgo the cost of an expensive GPU, and focus on more of a “workstation” setup. You can get some amazing deals on older dual Intel Xeon motherboards and CPUs that would last you a long time. Maybe a Supermicro board, dual x5675 processors (which would yield 12 cores/24 threads) and a mountain of DDR3 ECC ram.

  5. @kev after reading this you might be better off with a laptop + dock. Seems like purchasing two machines specifically for the tasks you need it for is overkill. But that also ignores the fun of messing with hardware and building a new computer (at least that’s a part I really enjoy).I noticed you have an iPad on your desk too. Have you considered using that for the lightweight tasks you use a laptop for?

  6. @sheogorath yeah, I could replace components for the desktop (and probably will if I decide to keep it) but once I’ve replaced the main board, cpu, ram and GPU, it’s not much further to go the whole hog an replace the lot.The laptop does need an upgrade – specifically the battery. There’s no performance issues with it really.

  7. @kev I would personally consider keeping a desktop (for easy upgradability) and buy something like a pinebook, it has good battery life, is cheap and is a computer. Then I would set up WOL on my desktop, so I can turn it on whenever I need the horse power for development and SSH into it from the pinebook, other than that pinebook should be sufficient for note taking/web browsing/whatever. This might not fit everybody’s use case, but I think it would work for me

  8. @kev the main issue you raise is the “point of failure” perspective.It seems to me your dekstop is still pretty decent for the usage you describe and I’d keep it for another 1 or 1.5 year, then maybe re build it from scratch.Usb3 absence is a major issue? Laptopwise you’re suffering and maybe you should focus on that for now, that is your most relevant relative point of failure.Separate upgrade allow you to invest more € in different times, should this be an issue..

  9. @kev I think your argument about upgradablity of the desktop is flawed in two ways:First of all, after 5 years you’ll probably need to replace your mainboard to use all the latest and greatest CPU and RAM again. Mainly leaving the Graphics card on the table, which is even more likely to “need” an upgrade.And second, you didn’t need an upgrade of your notebook in 8 years, why would you need one in the upcoming 8?

  10. How about a frankenstein/modular laptop? RPi (or something more powerful to your liking, even a NUC), powerbank, portable screen, thinkpad keyboard. You can also replace the RPi with your phone, depending on what you use.

    Not saying it’s the best idea in the world, but it’s doable enough I’m seriously thinking about it these days.

    1. Thanks for the comment, I don’t really have time to tinker around with custom setups. I really need something off the shelf that really easy to manage.

  11. @kev The budget option is to just replace the battery ($ 100), and even a microATX tower might fit a small PCIe card for USB 3. (Otherwise you might look into going with a Ryzen CPU, B550 Mainboard and DDR 4 Ram, which will add up to about $/€ 500). The other way would be to go with a Ryzen notebook with a Renoir (4th generation) APU, which should be the best bang for your buck. There are even some Linux centric hardware vendors that sell these. That would cost you around $/€ 1000.

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